August 4, 2013

John Christie: Harraseeket offers fine paddling, but watch the tides

A couple weeks ago I made the same mistake as many paddlers setting out to explore the Harraseeket River and the beautiful stretch of Casco Bay surrounding South Freeport for the first time by failing to consult the tide chart, and I arrived at the well-marked public launch site on the short drive down from Freeport next to Falls Point Marine at dead low. There was only a trickle of water through some mud flats leading out to possible paddling several hundred yards away.

So a word to the wise and not-so-wise, plan your paddle within about three hours of high tide to assure an easy launch and a safe return. You'll even note a warning sign at the launch site, obviously presented for consumption by the most naive of us, that we should only launch on a tide that will allow us to get easily back to shore, as there's no water there at low tide.

With that newly acquired wisdom, I set out one day last week for one of the more delightful paddles of this still-young summer on a stretch of water I'd only seen from my lobster boat many years ago, or from the deck of Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster enjoying one of their famous lobster rolls.

My only excuse for not having explored the area is that there are just so many places to sea or flat-water kayak in Maine, not to mention hike and bike and camp, and summers are so short (although we skiers delight when the leaves turn) that I can only plan so many excursions each year.

Well, I can now chalk up another place that's definitely worth the trip that I can unequivocally recommend to all you paddlers.

Here's why: After launching I headed down the shore on my right for a nice piece of exercise against the incoming tide, past an osprey protecting her chicks on a nest on a marker on a ledge just east of the town landing in South Freeport.

The busy harbor was full of pleasure craft, and I was reminded of a conversation I had with an old sailor friend on a chairlift this past winter who, when I remarked that I had a goal each year to ski as many days as my age, said that his sailing buddies have a goal of always having a boat as many feet in length as their age. It looked to me like there are a lot of older sailors mooring their sailboats in South Freeport, as there were plenty of lengthy and spectacular boats bobbing in the harbor.

After admiring the pulchritude of the watercraft of others, I headed southwest, noting the imitation medieval castle tower that serves as a chief landmark for the harbor. I learned later that it was part of Casco Castle, a summer hotel built in 1903 by Amos F. Gerald, a trolley car magnate, as an inducement for people to ride his trolley line from Portland. The hotel burned in 1914, leaving only the tower.

Next I took a bearing past Spar Cove to Staples Cove and a cruise around Winslow Memorial Park, as so many people have reported to me how much they enjoy camping at this exquisite campground.

Then it was over to the west shore of Wolfe's Neck for a nice long paddle with the assistance of the still incoming tide up the meandering Harraseeket to Mast Landing. Along the way I stopped to watch a mother heron training her three snow-white chicks to fish in the river. This stretch of the river is navigable, even in a kayak, only within an hour or two of high tide. Some might find the cocoa-colored water resulting from the tide's movement over the mud flats not too inviting, but it makes for a delightful paddle.

My return trip to the launch site was pleasantly interrupted by a voice on a dock calling my name, and it turned out to be my old Bowdoin buddy Charlie Sawyer, who, with his wife Jane, was awaiting the arrival by boat of our good friends, Rod and Judy Collette. The only downside to our chance and very pleasant encounter was that as I fumbled to capture the reunion on my wife's camera, which contained some wonderful pictures of the day I'd just enjoyed, it somehow slipped out of my hand and found its way to the bottom of the river, where it joined whatever other historical artifacts reside there.

The trip reminded me that special outdoor pleasures, both recreationally and socially, await us around virtually any corner here in Maine, and that all we need to do is take the time to get out and enjoy them.

John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son, Josh, write in Outdoors about places to enjoy beauty only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at:

jchristie@fairpoint.net

 

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